Monday, February 23, 2009

olive oil almond cake

almond olive oil cake - glazed, cooling

Consider this an open apology letter to Gina DePalma, pastry-chef extraordinaire at Babbo. Gina, I should never have second-guessed you on anything, especially the brown butter glaze you instructed for this cake. In the future, I will follow all your recipes to the minutest detail and never ever doubt your wisdom and experience.

You might be thinking, what is she talking about? After all, there is glaze on that cake in the picture. And yes, glaze surely is on this divine almond olive oil cake, but it almost didn’t make it there. You see, I’ve an aversion to sugar glazes or things that are overly sweet. And my favorite cakes, such as this one, or the ginger pear one I made a few months back, are moderately sweet, a bit restrained in their sugar content. Plus, I find sugar glaze kind of disgusting to touch, I know – I’m an odd duck. And in case you were wondering, I really really cannot get on board with sticky buns. Homemade or otherwise – they simply gross me out.

almond olive oil cake ready to bakealmond olive oil cake - baked and cooling

And so while I was making this cake, I had absolutely no intention of making the glaze. I decided upon it so firmly that I even said it to myself out loud while I was mixing the cake batter – sometimes I talk to myself while I cook, or rather, talk myself through the recipe. Does anyone else do that? Or did I just confess to being the ultimate kitchen weirdo?

almond olive oil cake

But then, looking upon the baked cake that sat so peacefully and plainly on my kitchen counter, I felt like it just needed something. A little accessory to make it pretty and festive, like lip gloss, or a pretty purse – my cake needed something. And I read through the recipe again and my eyes drew to Ms. DePalma’s name, I thought to myself, “You idiot, the woman works at Babbo. Don’t you think she knows best? Don’t you think she would have omitted the glaze were it not absolutely divine?” And with that thought, I ignored my own prejudices and made the brown butter glaze.

almond olive oil cake

First of all, let me repeat. Brown. Butter. Glaze. As in, why did I question anything with brown butter in it? Why? Clearly, I have much to learn. And secondly, my goodness! This cake! The flavors of olive oil and almonds! The glaze! The subtle hint of citrus on my palate! This was superbly moist, delicate, comforting. And it’s got to be the easiest thing I have ever baked. It requires no electric appliances at all, and you need only two bowls and a whisk. Mix your dry ingredients into your wet ingredients, fold the batter gently, and bake. When the cake cools, glaze it and let it sit. Easy does it. And with the glaze the cake shines; the flavors just dance. Which is exactly what you’ll want to do around your kitchen after you have a slice of this.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

curried carrot ginger soup with pepitas, cilantro oil and a homemade spicy marshmallow

curried carrot ginger soup

One of the best things about eating at a great restaurant is that in addition to eating a well-prepared meal, you sort of become inspired. You go home with the flavors still lingering on your palate and you wonder for days on end how to recreated it in your kitchen. There’s the kabocha squash with leek ravioli with my name on it brewing in the depths of my mind. And I will make it before the season is out, mark my words. Not a day goes by that I haven’t thought about those ravioli with the fried ricotta and pine nuts in brown butter. [At this point, I slide of my office chair and fall to the floor. THUD.]

So where were we? Oh that’s right restaurants, inspiration, recreating the food at home. Of course. Let’s get back to the matter at hand, shall we?

curried carrot ginger soup

A few weeks ago a friend of mine and I went to check out this relatively new, well-reviewed restaurant in the East Village/Nolita area, whose focus was on Colonial influenced food. While our meal was nothing short of excellent, the highlight of the meal was this cardamom carrot soup we ordered as an appetizer. The carrot soup arrived, garnished with toasted pepitas (swoon), drizzled with cilantro oil (double swoon) and (takes deep breath) topped with a homemade chili marshmallow a little oozy and melty around its perimeter. [THUD] That’s me falling out of my chair again.

curried carrot ginger soup

Ok, so. The soup. By now, most of you reading this site, know that I possess a love for soup that runs so deep you’d be hard-pressed to find a comparison for it. I know soup is a little bit grandmotherly, like strained peas or oatmeal, but I love it unabashedly. Soup is warmth. Soup is comfort. Soup is a glorious thing that you spoon and taste and feel like you’ve a warm blanket on your lap. And since I so over winter at this point, soup makes me feel one day closer to spring.

curried carrot ginger soup

What can I say to you about this soup? Well, you must know I love it because I recreated it at home mere weeks after trying it at a restaurant. But I also added a few things – gave it a little bit more mystery and caché if you will, but adding ginger, orange juice and curry. The original soup was heavily focused on cardamom, which I loved, but I wanted a little more depth. I wanted cardamom and that secondary aftertaste you feel with a slight curry flavor. I liked it even better than the original soup and will definitely make it again before the season is out – it is unbelievably comforting and is a cinch to make. You can puree it in a blender, but I must tell you that my new immersion blender is a thing of beauty. That little gadget is SO powerful and easy to use, that you’d want to get this if only because you will be looking at fewer pots to clean afterwards. A sink that has fewer dirty dishes – to me, that’s the ultimate inspiration!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

spicy marshmallows

spicy marshmallow gingebread men

I’ve never been much of a marshmallow person. Never one to put them in my hot cocoa, never one to make that traditional sweet potato dish with the marshmallow topping. On camping trips, I flirted with smores, but the only attractive marshmallow part was the singed sides carefully tucked between pieces of chocolate and graham cracker.

While in middle school, I joined the Girls Scouts and in one of our numerous activity/bonding sessions which included sewing on button and singing campfire songs (just a few of the reasons that convinced me I could never make it as a sorority sister) we made peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches. These sandwiches made me gag and even though Fluff is made in the town where my parents live and I grew up, I could not love it then and I cannot love it now.

spicy marshmallowsspicy marshmallows
spicy marshmallowsspicy marshmallows

Through years, I carefully avoided marshmallows in my food. The packaged ones held zero appeal to me. And I was never tempted to give handmade ones a go. Certainly, they looked tempting enough, like billowy clouds in myriad of stunning pastel colors, magical in their shiny cellophane. But I just assumed it was all a trick – and that when I bit into them, I’d find the same disappointment of their mass-produced cousins.

Boy, was I wrong. And I’ve got some lost time to make up for. A homemade marshmallow is the kind of thing that makes you forget your troubles, carries you to a magical place. It is like tasting a little flavored cloud, so impossibly airy and light, so soft and sweet. Nothing could possibly stop you from smiling when you bite into one of these things. Any bad day is instantly brightened with one of these.

spicy marshmallows in their role as gingerbread men

But beware, if you are a packaged marshmallow lover, this might ruin you forever. You might just have to make them from scratch from this day on, because one bite – and you could be goner. For me, I know that these will be made over and over, dropped in cocoa, eaten with abandon on their own, or, sneakily added to a certain soup which will make an appearance tomorrow.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

glazed pearl onions in port

port braised onions

Honestly, if someone told me I had to go and live on a uninhabited island and could bring one vegetable with me, it would be an onion. My kitchen feels oddly empty when I run out, which is why I buy loads of them at once as if the great onion famine is going to set in any day. I always wonder about the folks in the check-out line with a singular onion – why just one? Can’t you just chop up a great deal of them and make caramelized onions, spread them on bread with a little fleur de sel and you have a meal fit for a king?

Consider the onion – it is a humble thing. It’s subterranean, for one, growing in the dirt. It isn’t all sweet and welcoming like a carrot is, for instance. It’s never been serenaded, unlike, say the plum. Songs have not been written about it unlike beans for example. It’s got a smell, a bite, and it makes you cry. It’s cheap, fairly pedestrian and socially maligned (just try ordering a salad for lunch with onions and see what happens). And yet, what sandwich would be complete without it? What soup wouldn’t get more depth if you took on onion out? Making stock? Better have an onion on hand.

port braised onionsport braised onions

And when I say I can be giddy with a piece of hearty bread, topped with slowly caramelized onions and fleur de sel, I’m not lying. As a child, it was one thing my mother could make at any time and I would eat it. All of it. Without leaving so much as a little onion piece behind. I would have turned down chocolate and cookies just to sit down with a bowl of caramelized onions. And I might be the only one out there who swoons at the word “allium” – I once name my goldfish that. Unfortunately the goldfish lived an additional three hours and then decided it was time to go belly up. Perhaps it was offended at the name, but I meant it in the highest of compliments.

port braised onions

So let me just warn you before I give you the recipe for this. If you’re an onion fan and if the thought of slow-cooking an onion gives you weak knees like it does to me, run to the grocery store and get the ingredients to make this. Go now, don’t wait. As a side dish this is perfection. Roasted in port, these are luxurious, earthy, fully developed flavors. While peeling them is time consuming and is a pain, the end result is so worth it. Besides, roasting the onions in port makes the dish anything but pedestrian.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

lemon raspberry tart

lemon raspberry tart

“Are you and your husband doing anything special for the holiday this weekend?” I asked one of my friends the other day

“What, President’s Day? Nah, we’re going to just get a late brunch and watch TV.”

“No, I meant Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh that. Nope, not really, we’re not big on the holiday anyhow.”

lemon raspberry tart

I found it to be amusing, if not a bit refreshing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a total mush when it comes to romance and love. I am, in fact, a huge cheeseball despite the fact that usually I like to pretend that emotions are wholly superfluous. It’s an act I like to put on – call it protective coating. But underneath that veneer of the “dash of high school bitchy” I’m actually someone who actually enjoys cavity-inducing movies like “You’ve Got Mail”. There, I’ve said it – judge me if you will.

lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart
lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart

And while I like the idea of Valentine’s Day, it sort of brings about the anxiety on everyone – couples and singles alike. Is your gift good enough? What if you are single on February 14th — does that make you a social outcast? What about the notoriously sub-par food served at restaurants on the day? And finally – the prices of roses are astronomical. There’s no reason to pay 5 times as much for roses on the 14th over any other day. And according to a Real Simple magazine “study”, bodega roses lasted the longest anyway, and were the cheapest as well. Just a practical tip, folks.

lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart

What I do like about Valentine’s Day, however, is the chocolate craze that ensues the day after Christmas. I think that the more chocolate is sold around Valentine’s Day than any other holiday of the year. Candies, chocolates, cakes, cookies – and according to my rules of chocolate consumption – any chocolate consumed around February 14th has no calories. I know it because I feel it in my gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than in your head? You can look it up.

lemon raspberry tart

However, I am told, that some people don’t quite like chocolate. Frankly, I am not even sure these said people exist, perhaps they are a cautionary tale, or part of an urban legend, but I’ll go with it for now and pretend that this could be a reality. And while I cannot imagine ever eschewing chocolate, this lemon raspberry tart is so good, so creamy and so intensely lemony, that while eating it, I didn’t miss chocolate one bit. The tart is pure, intense lemon flavor, punctuated by the sweetness of raspberries. Enough to make you feel the sunshine and warmth even on the coldest day of the year.

lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart

A few thoughts on the recipe – the recipe itself is pretty easy, though I would make the tart dough ahead of time as I’m not big on waiting around my apartment much. But in steps, it’s very achievable. My one big question while I was baking the tart – what does “set” mean when referring to the tart doneness. Is it that the center is set and the sides are slightly jiggly? Or is it that the whole tart needs to be set? If so, what level of firmness am I looking to achieve? When and how would I know I overcooked it besides burning it to a crisp? I think, and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions here – that “set” means the whole tart has to be solid and not jiggly. I would periodically check on it to make sure as everyone’s oven is slightly different. And lastly, the tart surface cracked a bit later on. Something I could have remedied with some powdered sugar, but didn’t quite think about it at the time. I’m not sure if it cracked because I overcooked it, undercooked it or because that just happens with custards. It tasted perfectly cooked to me and everyone who ate it. In fact, despite its less-than-perfect look, it was the first dessert to disappear from the New Year’s table. [Yes, I am horribly late with this post, I know.]

lemon raspberry tart

And you know you’ve done something right when no one at the dessert table even mentioned chocolate. And for a few intense lemon-filled minutes I even forgot its existence and would have even turned it down. Because lemons, at their best, are that seductive. But please, keep this secret between us. Don’t tell chocolate about it!

lemon raspberry tart

Hey, lady! Thanks for the recipe but I still want my chocolate! Well, ok. How about the following recipes to satisfy your chocolate tooth?

Chocolate Cherry Muffins

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispy Bars
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
Chocolate Cola Cake with Dulce de Leche

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!!

lemon raspberry tart

Continue reading lemon raspberry tart.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

roasted cauliflower with indian spices and yogurt dressing

roasted cauliflower with indian spices and yogurt dip

Sometimes, I operate under the delusion that I have excellent time management skills, that I can multi-task and that no goal is unattainable. Take this roasted cauliflower, for example. I wanted to share it with you before I left for my vacation to L.A., but I got a bit distracted and failed to do much of anything. And then I thought I might even write about this while on my vacation, but who was I kidding? Not that I didn’t have an opportunity – L.A. was rainy for the 4 out of the 6 days. So much for their eternal sunshine.

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